In his speech last night announcing his latest executive action on immigration policy, President Obama took great pains to tell the country what his new immigration policy is not: it is not “amnesty,” just a way for people to avoid deportation; it is not citizenship, just work authorization; it won’t provide social welfare benefits, it will just allow employers to keep exploiting immigrant labor.
Here’s what it is: Obama’s initiative will build on the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has since 2012 offered some undocumented youth temporary, renewable reprieve from deportation. A similar protection will be extended to several million undocumented adults, who have children with citizen or green card status, and have at least five years of residency and clean records. More would also gain relief through an expansion of the original Deferred Action to include more childhood arrivals, with no age limit, along with easing the migration of skilled tech-sector workers.
But the president can’t bring about a complete overhaul of the immigration system himself, and millions will be left out of these new measures. Despite the battle cries of Republicans threatening to thwart the plan through procedural countermeasures or lawsuits, opponents can rest assured that the majority of undocumented people will remain without papers, and with nowhere to go.
And while the reprieve will be welcome news for millions, it contains a paradox: young people who were part of the 2012 reprieve, the DACA-mented, will see their parents excluded from the pending relief measures, because the new reforms exclude the undocumented parents of DACA recipients. In other words, the youth who have been on the front lines campaigning for an expansion of their program now face the devastation of their parents being among the millions who the new measures leave behind.
There are many other questions surrounding Obama’s plan. Since it’s intended as a temporary stopgap response to congressional gridlock, Republicans may propose a countervailing, much more restrictive reform bill. Additionally, Obama has tacked on various border enforcement measures that focus, as he put it, on “deporting felons, not families.” But targeting “criminal aliens” has historically served as a pretext for draconian enforcement measures that promote anti-immigrant dragnets and force undocumented workers into poverty and exploitation.